Labriola On

Labriola on the vanishing talent at QB

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • In May 2013, there was a story on NFL.com headlined, "Top 10 quarterbacks 25 or under." Ready for that list, starting with No. 10? Here goes: Josh Freeman, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Ryan Tannehill, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck is at No. 1.
  • It's three years later, and whaddya think of that list now? How many do you really like from that group? Three. Certainly no more than four.
  • Twenty-eight years old is the young prime of a franchise quarterback you would figure already had some significant starting experience in the league. This is the kind of guy a franchise should be able to build around for the next 5-to-7 years. Easy, 5-to-7. Maybe longer.
  • Just look around the league. Tom Brady is 39. Drew Brees is 37, and Carson Palmer will be 37 in December. Tony Romo is 36 and brittle. Eli Manning is 35, and Philip Rivers will be 35 in December. Ben Roethlisberger is 34. Aaron Rodgers is 33.
  • The Steelers' opponent this weekend – the Philadelphia Eagles – will start rookie Carson Wentz at quarterback, and Dak Prescott is playing for the Cowboys right now as Romo heals again, but who are going to be the guys to carry the mantel at the position for the NFL as the aforementioned old guard slowly fades into the sunset?
  • That's a real issue for the NFL. The pipeline of quarterbacks from college football into professional football has slowed to a trickle, and even the ones who ascend through the evaluation process to become first-round picks need a lot of coaching on the very basics of playing the position in the NFL.
  • Back in 2004, for example, Ben Roethlisberger was considered the project of the first-round group that also included Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Today, Roethlisberger's experience in the MAC would make him a sure thing, especially over those guys who spend their entire college careers in the shotgun without ever calling a play in the huddle.
  • The issue here is that the NFL isn't going to change the way it wants the quarterback position played, and college coaches don't care about developing players for the pros. And so you have fewer college quarterbacks prepared for what they're going to face in the NFL, which means teams have to do more guessing/projecting when drafting them.
  • Look at Louisville. The Cardinals are 3-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country. They hammered Florida State, 63-20, and they scored 62 the previous week against Syracuse. Lamar Jackson, the Louisville quarterback, has thrown eight touchdown passes and rushed for 10 more touchdowns. He has 1,377 yards of total offense and has had a hand in 18 touchdowns. In. Just. Three. Games.
  • But what position is Jackson going to be able to play in the NFL? At 6-foot-3 and slightly under 200 pounds, Houston looks more like a shooting guard on a basketball team, and in the Cardinals offense he doesn't call any of the plays, nor does he take snaps under center.
  • Let him try to do some of the things outside of the pocket in the NFL that he's been doing so successfully in college, and he'll be a broken man in a short period of time. There haven't been many more dynamic athletes to enter the NFL at the quarterback position recently than Robert Griffin III, and he is a broken man. Griffin is in his fifth NFL season, but despite being a starter as a rookie he has started just 36 games total, or the equivalent of 2.25 NFL seasons. Since coming to the NFL, Griffin has sustained two concussions, a dislocated ankle, a torn ACL, and a broken bone in his shoulder. He is 26, and largely finished.
  • It's only Week 3 of the 2016 regular season, and there will be four rookies starting at quarterback for their teams: Prescott, Wentz, Cody Kessler, and Jacoby Brissett, whose Patriots beat the Texans last night in the first game of the NFL weekend. Not exactly a reprisal of 1983 when John Elway, Jim Kelly, and Dan Marino were drafted into the NFL.
  • Tom Brady is suspended, and Peyton Manning is making commercials as a recent retiree. Brees, Palmer, Eli Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger, and Rodgers will be in their teams' starting lineups, but so will Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum and Blaine Gabbert and Kirk Cousins and Brian Hoyer and Trevor Siemian.
  • Rather than a who's who of NFL quarterbacks, that list is more likely a who's he to many fans, and maybe that has something to do with the soft TV ratings league-wide over the first two weekends of this regular season. And if you're watching any college football tomorrow, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of help on the way, either.
  • What this means, Steelers fans, is that before you climb into bed tonight, get down on your knees and offer a prayer of thanks that Ben Roethlisberger is your team's quarterback. Appreciate him. And don't be so quick to plan his retirement and start the search for his replacement.
  • Because there is no grass that's greener. In fact, it's looking more and more like a vast wasteland.
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